At the start of the 2012 season, I may have had my hopes for the Bears a little high. I argued that the Bears might be the most balanced team in the league this year, potentially featuring an elite offense, defense, and special teams!
For the first half of the season, in which the Bears got off to a 7-1 start, it looked like I might have been right. But red flags started going up out of the gate. The offensive line just wasn't protecting Cutler very well, and Mike Tice's offense too often looked like the anemic offenses under coordinator Mike Martz. Although not ruled out for sure, it didn't look like Johnny Knox would be playing this year, and Devin Hester just doesn't have the same spark he once had. Early in the season, it seemed as if the Bears might have to rely once again on their defense. That defense shocked the league by being more effective than the offense, with both cornerbacks (Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman) earning Pro-Bowl honors for forcing turnovers and scoring touchdowns! Things were looking good at 7-1, but there was a bad feeling in my gut that this all looked too familiar.
Starting the second half of the season, that feeling became justified. Once again, the injury bug started biting the Bears. Alshon Jeffrey and Earl Bennett were both the victims of multi-week injuries, leaving Brandon Marshall as the team's only true threat in the passing game and allowing opposing defenses to send everything they had after Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. Cutler and Forte also suffered temporary injuries, and backups Jason Campbell and Micheal Bush were ineffective against the 49ers.
I'm getting too used to seeing Urlacher in street clothes.
This review was originally published 05/15/2011 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished here for archival purposes.
Yes GladOS, we brought you back to life because we really do love to test!
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this game. I love the first Portal, as it was about as close to "perfect" as any game has ever come, but I couldn’t help but fear that Valve might turn this into a franchise, and in doing so, some of the allure of the game would be lost. But the game was released, and it is a triumph. Mostly.
Apparently, a very long time has passed since the first game. The Enrichment Center is very different. Under the care of the watchful AI, Wheatley, the entire facility has been slowly falling apart. The degrading, decrepit test chambers make for much more interesting visuals than the sterile, white and gray chambers of the first game. They are now overgrown with weeds and vines, panels are falling off the walls, broken glass litters the floors, and fallen and bent metal beams and girders obstruct some of your paths. It’s just too bad that with all the debris and vegetation littering the environment, that none of it is interactive. It slightly breaks the immersion when you walk through dangling leaves and they don’t react to your passing at all.
There is a lot of visual variety in this game. You travel through the dilapidated chambers of the early game until the facility begins to rebuild itself. You watch it piece itself back together. Then you get to travel through the deepest guts of Aperture Science. And finally, you come back to see the test chambers tear themselves apart again
The co-op puzzles are fun, but not terribly replayable.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a pretty tough story to screw up. The book was written as a simple children's adventure tale told from a singular point of view, and that is what it is loved for. Peter Jackson doesn't seem to understand what he's trying to do with the film adaptation. The movie struggles just to figure out what it is trying to do and tries so hard to pad itself with irrelevant Tolkien lore that it eventually starts to fall apart cinematically.
Not content to simply tell the first-person (well, technically "second person") account of Bilbo Baggins' adventure to The Lonely Mountain and back again, this Hobbit film tries to incorporate other plot threads from the complex tapestry of Tolkien's extended Middle-Earth lore. This creates two problems:
- The story loses its narrative focus and suffers cinematically from poor pacing and confusing scene transitions,
- The movie's tone shifts wildly from light-hearted fantasy to overly-serious forebodence.
If only you hadn't been blinded by your fanboyism, Stephen; you could have warned us!
Viewers of the 2012 Video Game Awards got a special treat in the form of an announcement teaser for Dark Souls II.
The teaser is a pre-rendered cinematic that gives only vague hints of the sequel's plot and provides absolutely nothing in terms of gameplay information. In any case, we have confirmation that a direct sequel (rather than a spiritual successor, ala Demon's Souls to Dark Souls) is in the works. Dark Souls was almost universally acclaimed by fans and critics, but a large portion of the loyal Demon's Souls fans held out that Dark Souls was actually a step backwards from its predecessor. Since a very large portion of Dark Souls players were Xbox and PC users who had never tasted the greatness of the PS3-exclusive Demon's Souls, many of them didn't know any better than to love the game without reservation. Being a big fan of Demon's Souls, I knew better and was one of the critics who argued that Dark Souls didn't quite hold up to Demon's Souls.
Don't get me wrong, I like Dark Souls! It's a really good game! I just felt that Demon's Souls was a more competent and cohesive overall package (especially factoring in the time it was released), in which all the features and mechanics worked fluidly with each other, and which was immensely better balanced (i.e. providing a challenge that was brutal, but fair).
I'm going to reserve my excitement for Dark Souls II until we start learning details of the gameplay. I fear that the marketing folks at the publisher might push FROM Software into making an even more mass-marketable game than Dark Souls was, which could lead to an even further simplification and dumbing-down of the game mechanics and concepts.
However, I'm not going to let that reservation stop me from expressing my desires for what I'd like to see in the game, just like I did prior to Dark Souls' release. [More]
This review was originally published 06/29/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished here for archival purposes.
The marriage of Wild-West theme with open-world gameplay is a great idea, but Red Dead falls just short of "genius."
I was very impressed with Grand Theft Auto IV. Before the game had come out, I worried that the formula would be stale, and that Rockstar would just throw so much content into the game that it would overwhelm the player (San Andreas was a ridiculously complex game, although not in a bad way). The successfulness of Grand Theft Auto IV had me very excited about Red Dead Redemption, even though I hated its predecessor Red Dead Revolver.
The release of this game also made me realize how strangely devoid the gaming world is of Westerns. I guess game developers just didn’t feel the genre would be very popular with the younger audience. But Red Dead Redemption just might change that. The marriage of a Western theme and an open-world sandbox style of gameplay is a combination that seems absolutely genius. Red Dead Redemption, however, does not quite reach the level of "genius."
Don't let Red Dead's expansive environment and minimalist soundtrack fool you into thinking that it will have the almost-depressingly-desolate brilliance of Shadow of the Colossus. There's a lot more than just birds and lizards in New Austin, and they'll pop out of the grass to eat you alive sooner than you can spit.
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